As Brussels pressures Bucharest to improve living conditions for its Roma population, thousands of euros paid by the EU and Romanian government to do just that appears to have been wasted on inflated salaries and exorbitant rents and expenses, BIRN can reveal.
By Adrian Mogoş
Leading Roma activists and NGO chiefs appear to be saddled with paying extraordinarily high rents for their properties in Romania. Not that they seem to mind much, as long as the European Union or the Romanian government is footing the bill.
Take Ioan Bumbu Gruia, one-time president of the National Roma Agency (NRA), a governmental agency responsible for representing Roma on a national level within the Romanian government. His rent, paid for by the NRA, cost a whopping €52,000 for just two years from September 2009 to September 2011.
This despite the fact similar apartments in Alba-Iulia, central Transylvania, rent for an average of €500 euro. The €52,000 was not a bad earner for, as it happens, his aunt. It turns out Gruia’s expensive office was once his own property that he had passed on to his parents and subsequently to his aunt before he rented the property, paid for by the NRA, for Roma project business.
Or take Ioana Viorica Dumitru, head of the Roma Women’s Association, who lives on the ninth floor of an apartment block with her parents in Bucharest. Her rent, paid for by the association which is also registered to the same address, costs no less than €2,754 each month.
This despite the fact the average rent in the block for a comparable apartment is just €300 euro per month. Dumitru denies charging the rent to the NRA or taking money directly from them for the rent.
When asked to explain how the monthly rental charge of €2,754 appears on the budget costs, she would only say: “I don’t know what happened. Where did you get this information? I don’t know such things.” She then refused to answer any more questions unless the current head of the NRA, Ilie Dincă, was present.
Since Viorica Dumitru declined to explain her rent, Dănuț Dumitru, a programme manager with the NRA and no relation to Viorica, was asked to comment.
Initially he claimed he was the manager since 2010 and the apartment was rented previous to his appointment, promising: “I don’t know the reason why that apartment was rented. As soon as I am in my office I call you back to explain why.”
After one hour, Dumitru refused to give any explanation and asked for written questions. He has refused to comment since, as has the NRA head Dincă.
In Timișoara, the largest western city in Romania, an apartment of 60 square metres was rented for €1,000 per month between August 2009 and June 2006 for the Roma project Together for a Better Society. A similar apartment in a neighbouring building was up for €220 per month, although the owner was willing to negotiate down when BIRN enquired.
Another apartment in the same block, this time of 140 square metres, was rented for €1,300 euro monthly between September 2009 and August 2011 by Roma NGO Parudimos for another Roma programme called Together on the Labour Market.
The building is owned by the Cîrpaci family, a gipsy clan in Timișoara who have been subject to much national and local media coverage for many years over their real estate activities.
Again, the NRA refused to comment on these rental expenses.
Salaries Exceed President’s Wage
Salaries have also raised eyebrows. The average monthly salary in Romania is around €500. The Romanian president’s official annual salary in 2010 was approximately €20,000 (19,109 Lei), which makes some of the people’s salaries on these programmes all the more amazing – given many were earning as much as €62 (250 Lei) per hour.
Indeed, according to their own records, the manager of a project set up to establish a national network of Roma experts earned almost €62,000 over a three year period for a working week that averaged just one-and-a-half days per week (42 hours per month). In other words, his pay surpassed even the president’s official annual salary. Not bad for a part-time job.
Claudia Vușdea, sister of the former NRA head Gruia, ran the Roma NGO Pakiv during her brother’s time at the NRA. She was employed as a monitoring expert on the EU-Romanian funded Together on the Labour Market programme and paid a monthly salary of almost €6,000.
Pakiv claimed almost €200,000 for salaries from the employment programme between December 2008 and March 2010 for a dozen employees. Gruia charged for nine months work and his sister for 15 months, both working no more than four hours per day. The rest of the workers were employed for between one and three months on this project, again, for no more than four hours per day.
One former employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, claims she discovered she was on the pay roll for two months rather than the one month she actually worked.
Other employees on this programme include Plebis Ivan, an NRA expert, Viorel Bumbu (Gruia’s uncle) and his former wife, and two ladies who held senior ranking posts in the government. One of them was Simona Voicescu, former head of the cabinet of the General Secretariat of the Government while the other, Andreea Gergely, worked within the Government Chancellery.
These expenses are all the more surprising, given all these organisations are required to put office supplies, accommodation contracts and jobs themselves out to tender to get the best deal. It seems that many of these plum jobs have gone to family members rather than having been filled by open competition.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the apparent misappropriation of funds intended for some of the most vulnerable, marginalised communities in Europe. And much more EU money is going to be spent in the coming years, along with cash from the Romanian government.
In Romania, there are currently around 89 active Roma projects, according to the government. These programmes are estimated by various bodies to have cost around €100 million to date.
The EU and Bucharest jointly fund six national programmes, with Brussels coughing up 85 per cent – €22.8 million – of the projects’ running costs since 2008. The Romanian government foots the bill for the rest.
The six programmes target social exclusion, school truancy and drop-out rates within the Roma community.
While the projects sound worthwhile, there have been complaints about the quality of training and conferences provided.
The NRA’s own reports show that experts working on these programmes had poor knowledge and experience – even though they were being paid between 25 and 65 euros per hour (100 – 250 Lei).
Contracts awarded as a result of public tender processes have ended up in the hands of relatively unknown companies with little expertise or experience. In some cases, the prices they have charged for office furniture, computers and services were much higher than regular, market prices.
The NRA was even penalised in 2009 by the National Authority for Regulating and Monitoring Public Procurement (NARMPP) and forced to pay an almost €17,000 fine (70,000 lei) because they didn’t follow the rules for public tender.
Aurel Pascu is the head of the Roma Umanitate Foundation and a member of the political party Partida Romilor Pro-Europa. Based in the heart of Transylvania in central Romania, he is also the son of Aurel Roşianu, vice-president of Partida Romilor and the chief of several Roma organisations.
During the 2008 parliamentary election, Aurel Pascu was accused of election fraud by allegedly voting twice under different names. An inquiry into the charges is on-going. Aurel Roşianu was also in the headlines in the mid-90s, after Romania’s General Prosecutor’s Office accused him of involvement in a Ponzi scheme and of committing bank fraud.
In 2001, Roşianu, who was then head of the local branch of Partida Romilor, was arrested by state prosecutors for embezzlement, corruption and forgery. The charges appear to have been dropped but neither the local police nor Roşianu and his son wanted to comment.
At that time, police officers accused Roșianu of renting a motel in the small, Transylvanian city of Gilău in order to justify expenses claimed from the government and Roma NGOs. Roșianu denied the charge, insisting he had offered the accommodation to homeless Roma.
Talking on condition of anonymity, local sources told BIRN that during Easter this year, Roșianu and his son Pascu gathered 100 Roma from Gilău and gave them all official diplomas, declaring them to be fully-qualified mushroom pickers.
When people received their diplomas they also confirmed, according to the same sources, that they have each received €1,000. Apparently, Roșianu also gave such diplomas to members of his family. Despite several requests to respond to these claims, Roşianu has declined to comment.
The Together on the Labour Market programme awarded a contract to a small firm called Tehno Art Solutions to deliver a hairdressing diploma.
What is rather surprising about awarding a contract to deliver professional hairdressing training to Tehno Art Solution is that the company had expertise in pottery and chinaware production when it was established in late April 2009. Only in November 2010 did it register its main activity as teaching.
The Together on the Labour Market project held conferences and training sessions at the Hotel Mara, in the mountain resort of Sinaia. Not everyone was happy with the training.
According to a message posted on the Rom Link online forum, a man claiming to have attended a training session on communication within and outside Roma communities slammed the quality of tuition.
“I was last week in Sinaia for training. I attended the most disgraceful session of communication that can exist. A person… was introduced as an expert even though no one knew where she came from [or what] she is doing in this project.
“She was introduced as a personnel expert and for one hour we could hear about her most vulgar and embarrassing personal events. It is clear that lady never heard about communication ever and took us Roma as fools. She came totally unprepared and even the guests from Spain who were invited in Sinaia were ashamed of what they heard. They left with a bad impression,” he says.
Examples of other, at the very least questionable expenses can be found in any of these six programmes. Within the Together for a Better Society programme money is being spent on a relatively inexperienced lawyer with only five years’ experience. She receives €2,800 euro monthly despite the fact the NRA has its own legal department.
The project has an overall budget of €4 million, no less than €1 million has been spent on new furniture, IT equipment, financial audit and training. The largest contract, worth almost €750,000, was signed with FaxMedia Consulting, a company located 50 km north of Bucharest in the city of Ploiești which is owned by a former local journalist.
To this money one must add the salaries of the managers and experts involved. The team manager gets 65 euros (250 lei) per hour – again for an average of 1.5 days per week.
Another project is Together on Labour Market where Pakiv, an NGO located in the city of Alba-Iulia in the heart of Transylvania, is a partner. Pakiv is also a partner NGO in the Roma children education and employment programmes and it is run by a former head of the NRA, Ioan Bumbu Gruia, who is also a national liberal politician.
In Romani, the word Pakiv translates roughly to respect, trust, credibility, transparency, solidarity. Critics describe this as somewhat ironic.
NRA head Dincă has refused to reveal the names of key personnel – and their salaries – who are employed on the six programmes jointly funded by the Romanian government and the EU. Despite submitting a very detailed freedom of information request, he still refused to release all but the most basic of information.
Asked to respond to this investigation’s revelations that key staff are still drawing huge salaries, charging inflated expenses and that the programmes are not subject to appropriate oversight, Dincă would only say: “The information you have requested is a private issue and it is not a question of public interest.”
This stance has appalled many within and outside the Roma community. Romeo Tiberiade, is president of the Roma Craftsmen, Artists and Merchants Association and is the Roma councillor for Dolj county council.
“I am still wondering where the shamelessness of this man is heading to after the continuous charade since Dincă is the head of NRA… In these projects a huge number of personnel were dismissed but [the NRA] at the same time encouraged cooperation based on family relations. There were some public procurement [contracts] won by NRA employees which is illegal because of conflict of interest. No one is taking any action,” he says.
This lack of openness should come as no surprise, however, given one of Ilie Dincă’s first moves on becoming head of the NRA in 2009 was to set down that “all discussions about NRA employees or about the president of the NRA, both among the employees and with outside individuals, are forbidden”.
It seems lessons have not yet been learned about transparency and accountability and there appears to be little concern among Roma leaders.
Nicolae Păun, the deputy leader of the Roma minority in the Romanian parliament and president of Partida Romilor Pro-Europa, a political party which is also funded, according to Romanian law, from the state budget and is a partner with NRA, confirms these programmes have so far cost around €100 million.
Asked how so much money could have been spent with so few results on the ground, Păun says: “We, gypsies, are reproducing ourselves like rabbits and one could find us everywhere. Have you ever seen a county without gypsies? Have you seen a European country without gypsies? We are locusts, we are invaders. We are everywhere!”
His extraordinary comments seem to infer that no one is responsible for overspending or mismanaging funds, rather that Roma communities keep growing so fast that spending can’t keep up.
EU Spending Checks
But pressure is now mounting on Bucharest and on project managers to properly account for how much money has been spent and on what.
On October 5, 2010, Mihnea Motoc, the Romanian ambassador to the European Union, sent a memo to the foreign affairs ministry, the Romanian presidency, the interior ministry, the employment ministry and the NRA warning that the European Commission was about to send out a questionnaire on how EU and national funds were being spent to improve Roma inclusion.
In a similar memo sent one month later, Motoc stressed that €9.5 billion of European funding was available among member states for disadvantaged groups – particularly Roma projects. Some of this money had already been earmarked for projects, but much of it remains up for grabs.
A special team was appointed at the European Commission (EC) to prepare a report on how this money had been spent. The report was duly presented in April this year to the European Parliament and the European Council.
This report obliges the EC to report annually on how the Roma integration work has progressed within members states and how the money has been spent.
To understand why budgets for Roma projects are not subject to sufficient scrutiny to ensure funding is properly spent, you need to go back more than a decade to the original EU Phare assistance programme. Back in 2001, some employers – Romanians and foreigners alike – were earning as much as €12,000 euro each month.
Critics claim this sparked a culture of mismanagement and profligate spending without attention to rules, procedures, budgetary oversight and accountability.
Dan Oprescu Zenda is now a senior councillor officer for the NRA. In 2001, he was senior project officer for a Phare programme. He says he resigned because of misuse of funds.
Zenda claims that a long-term EU expert – a team manager – was paid €12,100 monthly with an extra €1,000 monthly accommodation allowance. Most short-term experts received around €550 per day with an extra €165 daily accommodation allowance. The Romanian experts – mainly ethnic Roma – got around €1,500 per month.
“The manner in which such funds were being spent can be compared to what is happening today. In some projects, the manager was paid €5,000 monthly. Even a desk clerk was paid between €1,000 and €2,000. Obviously, this tremendous amount of money has a demoralising impact on the public servants who were not ‘lucky’ enough to be put to work on these EU projects,” Zenda says.
The fact that some of these “lucky” people were selected on criteria other than their skills and professional background has been acknowledged in the NRA’s own 2010 report on the implementation of the six joint EU-Romanian strategic programmes. These programmes target 37,000 Romanians, 70 per cent of whom are Roma.
“Five of these programmes were signed in 2008 and one in 2009, but their implementation took a long time. The majority of the expenses had been made for paying salaries to management and implementation teams. These teams proved they didn’t have the necessary knowledge for implementing such large projects on a national level and of huge importance on an EU level,” concludes the NRA report.
The EC has said it aims to eradicate Roma exclusion in Europe by 2020. The optimism evident in stating this ambitious goal is not shared, however, by many key Roma organisations and expert observers who are critical of the commission’s project assessment processes, including members of the European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network (ERGO).
In 2010, ERGO published a paper claiming the EC tended to focus exclusively on positive case studies.
“We argue that such an approach is wrong and that without significant improvements in the evaluation and funding practices for EU Roma-related projects, we will see various detrimental effects in the long term.
“It is in the direct interest of everybody involved to present any EU Roma project, successful or not, as a positive case study. NGOs depend on EU funds for Roma projects. In order to function and employ staff, these NGOs need to continue receiving European funds. Therefore, they have a direct interest in over-estimating their initial applications and embellishing their results, because successful projects are the only ones promoted/rewarded by the commission,” the report reads.
Pressure to Create Strategies
Oprescu Zenda, the NRA official who previously quit his job because of mismanagement of funds, says that during the past 20 years there has been much pressure on central and eastern European states to create and implement public policies in a short period of time for their Roma populations.
“Most governments, international donors, even the European Commission pressed the people who were in charge with designing Roma strategies to do a quick job, with the understanding that later on, eventually, the ‘strategies’ would be eventually changed according to reality,” says Zenda.
Following the expulsion of Roma from France in the summer of 2010, the EU has been forced to look closely at the issue of how well states are integrating their Roma populations. They are also committed to scrutinising how funding is spent.
National governments are responsible for auditing and László Andor, the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, refused to comment directly on the findings of this investigation, but a spokesperson from his office pointed to a series of speeches on funding for Roma projects in the past year.
One of Andor’s speeches highlighted that the EC is preparing proposals for new funding plans for 2013 onwards and stressed that microfinance loans would be available to people hoping to start up new businesses or struggling to get bank loans “thus, Roma communities are one of the beneficiaries”.
“An initial EU budget of 100 million euros for the period 2010 to 2013 is expected to leverage a total amount of 500 million euros in micro-credit… EU funding alone, however, cannot solve the problems experienced by Roma people,” says Andor.
Romanian NGOs have urged the EC and the Romanian government to make public the names of personnel holding key posts in Roma projects and to hold managers and programme heads accountable for delays in delivery. A petition has been signed by several.
Ironically, another signatory was Viorica Dumitru, the woman who rented her apartment for almost €3,000 per month.
This article was produced by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network as part of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence Alumni Initiative, established and supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and ERSTE Foundation.